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Self talk: Friend or Foe?

Self talk. We all do it, we all have different voices in our heads and no, that doesn’t mean we are crazy, just human.

Self talk: Friend or Foe?

How much do you pay attention to how you talk to yourself though?

Personally and professionally, I talk to people on a regular basis who are so hard on themselves. The sad part is we are often aware that we would never speak to anybody we care about in the same manner we speak to ourselves.

Why is this ok?

Why do we talk kindly and have compassion for others way more than ourselves. Don’t we deserve it too? The answer is a resounding yes!

I once had a client tell me on an on about her perceived faults and failures and why she sucked at life basically, then couldn’t understand why she wasn’t motivated to look for a new job and apartment. I looked at her incredulously that she found another way to berate herself and told her “of course you’re not motivated, you just beat the crap out of yourself mentally and emotionally for the past twenty minutes, why would you feel motivated to do something positive for yourself?”

There’s tough love and accountability and then there’s meanness and even borderline abusive treatment.

I imagine if most people were to write down some of the things they say to themselves throughout the day that they may be surprised. We’ve all heard that each person is their own worst critic and somehow we accept this and even think it’s motivating to be hard on ourselves. Now I’m all for accountability and being responsible, but this doesn’t have to include unrealistic expectations or a harsh or nasty tone.

You can talk to yourself with compassion while still holding yourself accountable.

Let’s say you’re trying to stick with a gym routine but you miss a day because you’re tired. How do you respond to yourself? Would you say “ok, I’m not up for it today, I’ll take care of myself by resting and get back to my routine tomorrow”? Or would you say something like “wow, you really can’t stick with anything can you? This is why you’ll never lose weight, you’re so lazy”? Being hard on yourself isn’t motivating, it has quite the opposite effect actually.

This next point really proves the impact of self talk.

There have been studies done with plants where two plants are cared for in the same manner, except one plant is spoken to very kindly and lovingly while the other plant is yelled at, criticized and spoken to unkindly. The plant spoken to kindly grows and thrives while the plant who was spoken to unkindly wilts and dies. These results, in my opinion, are profound! If a plant can literally die, just from unkind words, what kind of impact do you think your words are having on your mind and body?

Hopefully you’re convinced that more self compassion is in order, so what’s next?

The first step is always increasing your mindfulness of the problem. We can’t change something we are not aware of. Mindfulness is a big buzz word these days but all it really means is to pay attention. Start by noticing how you treat yourself, things you tell yourself, how you respond to yourself, especially in times of high stress or emotion.

Once you are noticing the bully in your head, try to interrupt those thoughts either through distraction or diverting to another focus. You can also meet the bully head on and tell it to shut up and sit down! Then find another more positive way of interacting with yourself. Remember, you wouldn’t say mean things to your kids, friends or loved ones to “motivate” them.

Making these changes with self talk will take time, so be patient with yourself.

If you or a loved one needs some help with this, feel free to get in touch with me. I work with people every day on this issue! Take care and be kind to yourself, you deserve it.

Kathy Most
Therapist in Westfield, NJ
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